The Object of Our Confidence

September 11, 2022
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When it comes to standing before God, there is nothing that will catch you and save you securely other than the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Well, several years ago, a guy jumped out of a plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute on live TV. Did you see it? Anybody see it? You can watch it on YouTube. The guy’s name is Luke Aikins, and I’m not sure if that is cool or dumb. I can’t figure it out. I’m about 50-50 on it. Instead of a parachute, he dove into a large net. The tough part, of course, in doing this is, hitting your mark every time; in fact, on live TV he did not hit the middle of the net. He sort of caught the edge of the net, which is mind boggling to me. I’m not sure how you do that. How do you learn to do that? He practiced it 34 times before the live jump. I don’t even know how you practice that. What do you do? Do you just jump off? You start like on your couch. You jump into the laundry basket. I don’t know how you get like eventually you’re on your roof and there’s a mattress on the ground. How do you get to the place where you’re willing to jump out of a plane at 25,000 feet? That 35th jump is scary. But even for a trained professional stunt jumper like this guy is, the first time you go out of the plane without a parachute has got to be the most terrifying experience of your life. You would have to be nearly 100% convinced that net is going to do what it is designed to do, that it’s actually going to do its job.

Today in our study of the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians, he’s going to talk about the object of our confidence, that thing that we trust to keep us safe, to save our lives, to stop us from destruction. When that guy jumped out of the plane without a parachute, he was not saying, I don’t need anything to save me. He was saying, I trust in something else to save me. You see that? When you think about it, it’s actually pretty silly. What he actually proved was that instead of trusting in a parachute, you can trust in a net. Great. Well done. I’m not sure exactly what that proves. They both work. All right. Good to know. If I’m ever in that situation. Paul’s argument for the object of our confidence is vastly more important than that because it has to do with our confidence before God. What is that thing, that object that gives us the confidence to be able to stand before a Holy God without fear? And is there more than one object that will work for that? Paul is going to answer this today by going into great detail on many of the false security nets that people trust in that should give them no confidence at all. And he’s going to compare these to the one object, the one security that will work for us 100% of the time.

See, when it comes to standing before God, there is nothing that will catch you and keep you securely other than the righteousness of Christ. We’re beginning in the in Philippians 3 today, so you can turn there right at the top of the chapter. Paul does something sort of unique at this point in the letter. He makes a very brief argument about the false and true confidence that we should have. And so he says, basically, don’t trust this, trust in this. He says that very, very briefly. And then he makes the exact same argument again, but he goes into great detail on both halves of the argument. And so that’s what we’re going to do today. We’re going to start with a quick summary on where true confidence comes from, and then we’ll look at the same argument, but much more closely. And by the end of our time today, what I’m hoping to accomplish today, is that I want you to have every confidence that as you stand before God, that there is nothing to fear because the object of your confidence is true. It’s a true object. Sounds pretty good, right? Let’s start with the summary. “Finally, my brothers rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs. Look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” This is a pretty strong warning here that he starts off with. He says, look out three times. So clearly Paul wants this Philippine church, and for us as the church, to be on high alert. What for? For dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh, that sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? That’s quite a description. Sounds like a horror movie. Like the zombie horde is on its way to the Philippi, right? And actually, spiritually speaking, that’s not far from the truth. It’s not far from what he’s really worried about. One of the early threats to the church was a movement of professed Christians coming from a Jewish background who insisted that Gentile believers become Jewish in their religious practices in order to follow Christ. So, you need to become like us, you need to become Jewish so that you can actually come to Christ. And this was a big hang-up for the early Jewish Christians. Can a Gentile, can a non-Jewish person who doesn’t follow the Mosaic law and the religious traditions, especially circumcision, can that person accept and follow and be saved by the Jewish Messiah? Can that happen? That was that was a big question. Big question. If you want to read more about that tension that we see in scripture, you can go later today to Acts Chapter 15. That’s a good place to go. You might also check out the entire letter of Galatians. You heard a lot of it read this morning, but check out that letter. You’ll learn a lot more about this tension. All Jewish Christians wrestled with this tension. Paul confronted the apostle Peter for even giving in to the temptation to model that behavior to the Gentiles and causing them to trip up and fail. Wait a minute. Even Peter is sticking to the laws. Maybe we should, too. And their consciences were bound by this. There’s a certain set of teachers and preachers who claimed to follow Jesus, but who were telling Gentile believers, you have to become Jewish before you can become Christian. There is a step for you. You need to get to the place that we are. You need to arise to the place that we are at, so that then, you can become a Christian. You have to accept all of the Sabbath laws. You have to eat only the clean foods. That was a big hang up for them. And most importantly, for our passage today. You have to keep the sign of the Mosaic covenant, which is male circumcision. Now, if you are new to Christianity or maybe you’re not even a follower of Jesus and you’re just here this morning and you don’t know what I’m talking about. And this is already more mentions of circumcision than you’ve heard in your entire life, first of all, we’re not done talking about it, so brace yourself.

But more importantly, the beauty of Paul’s whole argument this morning is that you don’t need to do anything with the Mosaic covenant. You don’t need to do anything with the Mosaic covenant to have a relationship with the Lord through Jesus Christ. You can come from completely outside of it. There’s great benefit in understanding it. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t hear me wrong here. I love the Old Testament. Don’t get me wrong, there is great benefit to understanding the Mosaic Law and the Mosaic covenant, but only because it points us to Jesus. And it helps us to understand the new covenant, the new relationship that we can now have with Jesus Christ. To insist that a person become culturally Jewish to receive Jesus is more than just difficult. It’s more than just hard to do. It’s adding to the gospel in a way that can actually distort the gift of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus alone. And that’s the problem. That’s the problem with it. When you add to the gospel, it stops being good news. If I’m saved entirely by God’s grace to me in Christ, then the basis of my salvation is Jesus alone. But if we say the basis of our salvation is Jesus perfect righteousness and plus my ability to keep the Mosaic law, then we have an imperfect basis for salvation. It’s no longer perfect. And if the object of my confidence before God is imperfect, I lose all reason for confidence at all. And you know what happens when you start to combine yourself and your abilities along with Jesus grace, to try to create the object of your confidence. You begin to live a life of anxiety. Hoping that you’ve done enough. Or a life of false confidence thinking I’m fine because I’m good enough when I actually could never truly be good enough. But that’s what I think. That’s what Paul is worried about for the church here. This is what he’s concerned is going to make its way into the church. He knows that there’s a group of people called the Judaizers. These are the ones that are teaching. And you’ll hear that word. Sometimes these Judaizers are claiming to follow Jesus, but they are misleading people into this false gospel, this Jesus plus gospel. What they’re doing is so terrible, he actually uses their own words against them. See, dogs and evildoers were the names that Jewish teachers use to describe people they deem to be unrighteous. That’s what Jewish leaders would call unrighteous outsiders. They call them dogs and evildoers. And now Paul is calling them the exact same names for leading people away from Jesus. He also calls them mutilators, was referring to the fact that they required physical circumcision of these gentile believers, but at the same time, they didn’t have hearts of love and grace. See, physical circumcision in the Old Testament was supposed to be a sign that pointed people to a heart change, to what the Old Testament actually refers to as circumcision of the heart. A change. A transformation of the heart. These Judaizers are telling non-Jewish Christians that they can’t have a true heart change unless they first have physical surgery. And Paul says that just makes you mutilated to the flesh. And then he says something very unexpected, doesn’t he? Very unexpected. See, we think at that point that he would say, you know what, circumcision doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. But what is he saying?  We are the circumcision. We’re the circumcision. Paul, a high pedigree Jewish leader and teacher, and the Greek formerly pagan Philippine church community are together. The circumcision (you’re thinking, Kyle, please stop saying circumcision), you don’t need the physical sign that they are joining the people of God. You don’t need this physical sign. Not because it doesn’t matter. But because they are already the people of God. They’re already the people of God.

Christianity is not a physical change. It’s a spiritual change. It’s an unalterable transformation of your heart. That’s what matters. You know, you want to know the true people of God? You want to know how you identify them? You know how you would see them? Would you look at a physical trait? No, no, no, no. You look at a spiritual tree. It’s those people who worship the Lord because they’re indwelled with the spirit of God, he says, that’s how you would see this transformation there as well. But it’s the Holy Spirit’s presence in your heart that’s the sign that you are part of God’s people. The true people of God won’t glory in something physical. They’re not going to point to themselves and say, look what I have done or look who I am or what I look like. They’re going to glory in what? They’re going to glory in Christ Jesus. That’s where their boast is going to be. Jesus alone is who they will point to for their inclusion in God’s people, not something that they find in themselves. And so since they have the Holy Spirit and because they trust in Christ alone, they put no confidence in the flesh. No confidence. Not trusting in anything in me. The object of confidence for someone who is truly right with God is Jesus. There’s no one else. There’s nowhere else to point to. There’s no other basis for our confidence to stand before the Lord. That’s the summary. So that’s Paul’s summary. He summarizes this, this very briefly here at the top. And if you want to be confident in your salvation, it is not Jesus plus your own adherence to tradition or to rituals or rules or anything else that people want to add. The object of our confidence is only Jesus. And we know Him if we are filled with the Spirit and that Spirit draws us into worship, not just formal worship like this, but worship with our entire lives. And anybody who tells you differently, anybody who says you need to add this too it is an evildoer who is guiding you into a false hope through a twisted gospel that cannot save you. That’s the summary.

Now let’s get more detailed. Paul starts with all the ways that we might falsely put confidence in the flesh. “Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh. Also, if anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more. Circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” One of the reasons God chose Saul of Tarsus, who eventually came to be known in his ministry as the Apostle Paul. The writer of this letter was that Paul is almost the perfect candidate for not becoming a Christian. He’s almost perfect as a candidate for not being the guy who would come to Christ. If we were looking for the least likely person to be a Christian, a person who has no desire for Jesus, no perceived need for Jesus, and is actually openly hostile to the people who follow Jesus, Paul would be the one we would find. He checks all the boxes. This guy had every non-Jesus following credential you could possibly rack up in the first century. If famed neo-atheist Richard Dawkins came to faith in Jesus, it would be less surprising than the apostle Paul. Ok? Because Paul had every reason to have confidence before God using the standards and the labels that people always use to justify themselves. That’s the list that he works out here. This is the list he gives us. And while these labels are unique to Paul, they actually help us identify categories of false confidence that people use all the time, even today, even now, even perhaps you are using some of these. Circumcised on the eighth day. I promise you; the circumcision talk is almost over. It really is. Circumcised on the eighth day. Paul is saying that his circumcision is perfectly aligned with the Mosaic Law. That’s the way you were supposed to do it. On the eighth day after you were born. That’s when it was supposed to happen. That was part of the law. Unlike all of these other Christians who are now being circumcised later in life, that the Judahites are forcing to get circumcised, he’s saying that if you could put confidence in something like circumcision, he has more reason for confidence than any Gentile convert, any other one. Of the people of Israel. This goes along with that first category. Paul is part of the chosen people by birth and by heritage. If confidence before God is based on nationality, Paul has reason to be confident. Of the tribe of Benjamin. This narrows Paul into a privileged class, even within Israel. So. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m part of Israel, but I’m also part of the tribe of Benjamin. You might remember that Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, and he was one of the most prized after Joseph of all of Jacob’s children. And apparently that honor had been passed on to his tribe. Paul is saying, I’m not one of those Naftali Israelites. Oh, no, no, no. I’m a Benjamin Israelite. And finally, a Hebrew of Hebrews. You do not get more authentically Hebrew than Paul. That means that he speaks the language which would not have been true of many. It would have been more the academic language of the day; Aramaic was what Jewish people spoke at that time. Greek was the language used for commerce. But Paul could speak in Hebrew and does occasionally in his ministry. We know he was educated in the rabbinic system under the teacher Gamaliel. Culturally, if confidence before God can be found in who you are, where you’re from, who your parents are, and whether you were raised right, Paul should have every confidence. Paul should have every confidence.

And then he switches to his accomplishments within that status. The first is his status. Now he says, Now look what I did with it. As to the law, a Pharisee. A Pharisees were a subset of Jewish religious leaders who were famous for keeping the law and not just the Mosaic Law. They actually added hundreds of other laws to the Mosaic Law to keep them from breaking the Mosaic Law. For example, the law says that you can’t work on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees went, hey, let’s count the number of steps everybody takes to make sure they’re not working on the Sabbath. And they gave him that rule. And he said, I kept to that rule. The Pharisees were champion law keepers. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. So not only is Paul amazing in keeping laws, he was also great at policing everybody else who was not keeping the laws. Now there’s nothing wrong with being zealous when it comes to what you believe in. But within the framework of Pharisee Judaism, the height of zeal was to destroy anybody opposed to you. That’s why they crucified Christ. People who follow Jesus were following a criminal as far as the Pharisees were concerned. So what Paul is saying is I was one of the Pharisees who actually chased down and destroyed Christians. That’s how dedicated to God I was. I went after those who went after that criminal Jesus. That’s how zealous I was for the faith. In fact, that’s by the way, that’s what he was doing at the time Christ met him. And finally, as to righteousness under the law, blameless. This is the one that that may be most important in the list because it summarizes all of the other ones in the list. To have righteousness means to be right. If you are righteous, it means you are right. You are in right standing, in this case, righteousness before God. So you are in right standing before God. If being right with God by keeping the law of Moses is possible. Paul says, I would have it. I would have it. He’s above reproach. No one could accuse him of being out of step with everything that the law and the Pharisees and the Jewish culture required. He’s not saying that he’s perfectly sinless, but he is saying that I kept to the law and the law includes sacrifices. And so he’s covered by the sacrifices, just like every other good Jew. Paul is the highest pedigree of Israelite you can get, and he is perfectly in step with God’s law. Now, let me pause. I was right there for a second. If the passage ended here. This would be exactly the argument that the Judaizers would like to hear. Do all of this, keep all of this, become as much as you can, all of this, and then tack Jesus on to the end of that as the Messiah. And you have the form of Christianity that these dogs and evildoers were propagating. It’s what they wanted.

You might be thinking this morning, as I as I describe this to you, you might be thinking what, Kyle? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with extreme faithfulness to God’s law? What is wrong with careful adherence to everything that God says and in the Jewish tradition, and then also trusting in Jesus as you do that. The problem is that as soon as you combine these things, you create that imperfect righteousness that I mentioned earlier. Let me update this list. Let me update this a little bit so you can see what I mean. Some of you come from really solid Christian families. You can trace your Christian faith and your church attendance back so far. There are third and fourth generations of Christian families in this room this morning. Some of you are highly educated and you have done great things with the education that God has given you for the community through your careers. You have helped so many people. Some of you have identified as Christian so long you can’t even remember a time when you didn’t identify as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus. Some of you are very wise handlers of the Bible. Some of you are really great at apologetics. I know I’ve talked to you really love apologetics. Some of you love evangelism. You share the gospel with people in the community all the time. Some are of you are incredibly kind servants. You just have this servant’s heart and you’re always trying to help people in need. But some of you don’t have any of that. Some of you maybe have some of that list that I just mentioned. Some of you kind of find yourself in there a little bit, but then you don’t really resonate with the other parts of the list. You’re good at some of it, but you’re not, you don’t have all of it. And my guess would be among those of you who have a wonderful Christian family heritage, you can probably identify the problems within your family that other people probably can’t see. It looks a lot better on the outside than it does on the inside. But hey, it’s the outside that matters, perhaps, to you. What if I told you the message of the Bible, the good news of the Gospel is that you can be forgiven and saved as long as you can get your life turned around and cleaned up enough so that you can receive Jesus properly. What if I told you that was the gospel this morning? What if I told you that God’s not looking for losers on his team? He doesn’t want losers. That there’s a standard that you need to meet first. What if I said you have to do more than repent over your sin, that you actually have to achieve a level of holiness so that you are in alignment with Christ and then you can trust in Christ for your righteousness. That would be devastating. That would be devastating. Because that’s the opposite of the gospel. And yet it’s the false gospel so many people cling to today.

We are inclined to look at our own status, our own good works, and put them together to create an argument for our own righteousness. We say, God, please accept me because I’m not such a bad person deep down. Oh, he’s a really good kid. He’s not so bad. That’s not really who he is. I’m not such a bad person; deep down, God accept me because I’m kinder than most other people. God, please forgive me and accept me because I accomplished so much in my life. I did so many good things. We think, God, please give me credit for who I am and what I’ve done. And if that is deficient in any way, then also thank you that Jesus covers over my sin. If you think like that this morning, you are missing the heart of the gospel. You’re missing it. Watch what Paul does with all of his high status and all of his accomplishments. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake. I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul says everything that I would have put into the gain column of my spiritual resume is actually in the loss column. If you had a resume that said, here’s why God should accept me – and you have the positives and negatives list, right? And you got the positives over. He says everything that would have been in the positives based on how the world thinks about things, you can actually put it over into the loss column for me, because whatever I had is gain, I count as loss. Listen to him. Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss. Past tense. When he trusted in Christ, it required recognizing there was no status of good status. There was no work that mattered in his life. Indeed, I count everything as loss, present tense. Right now, his entire Christian confidence before God has nothing to do with who he was before or what He’s doing right now. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ. To come to Christ, you need to lay down your own imperfect, flawed glory so that you can gain Christ. In fact. It’s worse than imperfect. It’s rubbish. It’s garbage. It’s flawed in every way. See, it’s not trash to be obedient to God’s law or to come from a good family. But it is if it’s the object of your confidence before God. Those are good things, but they become rubbish if that’s where your confidence is. You will never stand before God in right relationship with him because of who you are or what you did. You will only stand righteous before God if you have Christ. Your righteousness comes from who He is and what He did. And here’s the truly humbling thing about Christianity. You can’t have Christ in His righteousness until you acknowledge the fact that you have nothing to offer God. You can’t. As the starting point, you have to come to understand you have nothing to offer God. Jonathan Edwards, that Puritan preacher, famously preached ‘you contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary’. That’s our contribution. You’re never going to be able to cobble together enough of a good catalogue of obedience to make up for your sin. Our only hope is that righteousness will come from some other place and cover over our complete inability to be righteous on our own. And that’s what we have here. We have the perfect righteousness of Christ. To have it, we need to, as Paul puts it, gain Christ or be found in Christ.

So the next natural question is, Well, how then do we gain Christ? How do we have him? In verse 9, Paul says the mechanism for gaining righteousness is faith. It’s dependent on faith. And now we’ve come full circle, haven’t we? Because faith and confidence are synonyms. The righteousness of Christ is assigned to you when he becomes the object of your confidence. You put your confidence in Christ. And then you have Him. Why is it that Christians can hurtle through the sky with no parachute in this difficult, unpredictable world like everyone else, and yet have rest and peace when the entire world has neither? How is that possible? It’s because the object of our confidence is one who raised from the dead. He’s already shown us that death, which is the penalty of our sin and unrighteousness, has no hold on Jesus. And He’s the object of our confidence.

I’m going to talk more about it versus 11 and 12. And Paul wanting to know the full power of Jesus resurrection. In just a few weeks. But I want to close today talking to two different people in the room this morning, two different people who are here. First, I want to say something to those of you who know that you’re not perfect, but you still think you’re pretty impressive. You know you’re not perfect but come on, it’s still pretty impressive. This part of you that thinks, well, God must be pretty pleased with you based on your above average behavior. Right. And if you asked why you think God forgives your sins, someone asked you that your immediate response and your mind would immediately turn to the fact that on average, you’re a pretty good person. And by the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of us thought that as we look at the world, we were above average. And pretty good people. I hope you can see this morning that there is no reason for confidence in that. That may impress your mom and dad, but it does not impress God. What you need to see is your need. What you need to see is your need. There’s got to come a point, And I hope it’s today, that you call your own righteousness what it is, that you call it what it is. You call it out for what it is. It’s rubbish. And when you do, you are ready to put your full, confident faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ. The second person I want to talk to this in the room this morning is the one who is feeling like he doesn’t measure up. The one who says that her failure and lack of righteousness will never be able to impress anyone, certainly not God. Be encouraged. You’re actually a step closer than that first guy. You can relax and you can rest because you’re right. You will never be able to impress God. You will never measure up. You simply need to put your confidence in the one who measured up for you. Would you pray with me?

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